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You no longer have to spend upward of $1,000 if you want a flagship-quality smartphone. Just look at Samsung’s new Galaxy A54, which packs an advanced camera system and a bright, fluid, 120Hz display into a design that looks nearly as nice as the Galaxy S23 — all for only $450.

I got some early hands-on time with the Galaxy A54, and found that it one-ups the budget competition from Apple and Google in some surprising ways. Could this be the new budget phone to beat? Here are my thoughts so far.

A new budget smartphone from Samsung

A sneak peek at the Galaxy A54, which is now available to preorder, hinted at a strong newcomer to the budget smartphone space.

Galaxy A54 price and preorders

The Galaxy A54 will be up for preorder on March 30 starting at $450, with general availability set to begin on April 6. Those who preorder can tack on a pair of Galaxy Buds Live — an older but still solid set of Samsung earbuds — for just $50, and can score up to $250 off when trading in an older phone.

A budget Galaxy that doesn’t cut many corners

From a distance, it’s easy to mistake the Galaxy A54 for the much pricier Galaxy S23 — and that’s a compliment. Samsung’s latest budget phone borrows the same attractive design language as its more premium sibling, with a seamless back panel that ditches the big camera bump of old, comes with sleek rounded edges and is offered in alluring colors with names like Awesome Violet and Awesome Graphite. I especially loved the look of the violet, which you can’t even get on the S23 right now.

That said, once I got the A54 in my hands, it became clear that I was using a sub-$500 phone rather than one that costs $800-plus. The phone’s plastic body doesn’t feel nearly as premium as the S23’s glass-and-metal housing, though it still felt sturdy, weighty and comfortable for the price. The bigger downside is that the A54 has a glossy and highly reflective back panel, which frequently picked up fingerprints during my short hands-on time and proved a bit harder to photograph under bright lighting. This isn’t a deal breaker — the iPhone 14 and Pixel 7 are similarly glossy — but it did make me miss the smooth matte coating on the S23.

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However, the A54 felt every bit as smooth as a high-end smartphone once I opened the lock screen and started swiping my way around. One of my favorite things about this handset is that its display has a 120Hz refresh rate, which made navigating between apps and scrolling through webpages feel incredibly fluid. For context, that’s twice as smooth as what you’ll find on many older and cheaper smartphones — even the $800 iPhone 14 is still stuck at 60Hz, and the more affordable Pixel 7 is limited to 90Hz. The phone’s 6.4-inch AMOLED screen also proved to be a great canvas for watching movies, as the colorful CGI action of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” popped off the screen when I fired up its latest trailer on YouTube. Display quality has always been a highlight of Samsung phones, and I’m glad that seems to remain the case on its cheaper models.

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You can’t talk about a Galaxy phone without diving into the cameras, and the three-lens setup on the A54 seems promising for the price. It’s all led by a 50-megapixel main camera — matching the Galaxy S23 and Pixel 7 on sheer megapixels — and is backed up by a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens for panoramic shots and a 5-megapixel macro camera for capturing those fine details. You also get a whopping 32-megapixel front camera, which, at least on paper, is sharper than what you’ll find on most modern flagships.

This combination of lenses produced some pretty impressive shots during my short hands-on time. When I photographed some plants in a kitchen, the A54 picked up the finer ridges of each leaf while producing a nice depth of field effect between the foreground and background. The phone also packs up to 10x zoom, which allowed me to get a decent view of Manhattan’s Little Island from a few blocks away in Samsung’s 837 store. Images get noticeably fuzzy when you’re using full zoom, but the fact that this budget phone can zoom in farther than the iPhone 14 (5x) and Pixel 7 (8x) is noteworthy. The selfies I captured also looked sharp, and about on par with what I’ve come to expect from a Galaxy phone.

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Samsung is also promising many of the same nightography, optical image stabilization and general AI enhancements you’ll find on the more expensive Galaxy models — the A54 runs the same OneUI 5.1 software as the S23 series — so we’re eager to see how that all stacks up in real-world testing. Speaking of software, Samsung is promising four generations of Android updates and five years of security support, so you can count on your A54 being supported in the long run.

Samsung’s latest budget phone is powered by a custom Exynos processor, which isn’t as powerful as the Qualcomm chips you’ll find in the latest S23 models but still felt zippy during an hour’s worth of swiping around and taking photos. We’ll have to put the A54 through our usual suite of benchmarks to see how it stacks up in terms of performance and battery life, but this seems like a phone that can handle the basics well.

The takeaway

The Galaxy A54 is shaping up to be a serious contender for the title of best budget phone, taking many of the key features of the Galaxy S23 — our current Android pick — and paring them down into a device that’ll only run you $450. Its ultra-fluid display gives it a big advantage over the latest cheap iPhones and Pixels, and it’s certainly one of the nicer-looking phones you can get at this price.

That said, the budget phone space is more competitive than ever, especially when the Pixel 6a (our favorite affordable phone) can be found for nearly half the price at $249 these days. Can the Galaxy A54 dethrone the king? We’ll be putting it through its paces in a full review as soon as possible, so stay tuned.